Health care too important to be a partisan issue | Orlando Sentinel | 09.14.08

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt first considered including universal health coverage as part of the Social Security Act of 1935, America has seen five attempts to overhaul our federal health system. All have one thing in common: They ended in failure. With eight weeks to go in the presidential campaign, there are signs that this time it might be different.

An unlikely coalition of Americans is coming together in states across the nation to insist that health-care reform be a priority for the next president. In Florida, that call for reform is being led by three groups united in the belief that health care is too important to be a partisan issue: small business, older Americans and the uninsured. It’s not hard to see why.

Small business. Led by Orlando at No. 1, four of the five best markets in America for small business are in Florida, according to a study based on U.S. Census economic findings. These rankings mean, among other things, that Florida has more small businesses per capita than any other state.

Yet small businesses are particularly vulnerable to the sharp rise in health-care costs and insurance premiums. With premiums increasing 129 percent since 2000, 47 percent of small business owners can’t provide any coverage at all. People who own and work in small businesses are asking, how can these policies be made to fit our needs?

Older Americans. Older Americans have a different, equally urgent, concern. According to the Census Bureau, Florida ranks first in the nation for proportion of population age 65 and older — and is likely to remain No. 1 for the foreseeable future. Within 15 years, the elderly are expected to exceed a quarter of the state’s residents. In some parts of Central Florida, the senior population already has reached that number.

With the nation’s Medicare trustees predicting that Medicare will run out of funds in 2019, the solvency of Medicare and Medicaid is a pressing personal issue. They ask: What happens if health care costs increase to a point that government-sponsored insurance must ration or cut back? What happens if, because of rising prices, we have an increasingly hard time finding supplemental insurance plans we can afford and that covers what we need covered?

The uninsured. Again according to the Census Bureau, one in five Floridians have no health insurance — the third-highest rate in the nation.

Many who are uninsured will be so only for a few months. Others are young and have decided to skip coverage — or are poor and eligible for Medicaid but have not applied. Still others are undocumented workers. But that leaves many — perhaps as much as a quarter of the total — who want insurance, are not eligible for government programs and cannot afford the premiums.

Their employer — often a small business — may not be able to afford a plan. Or they may be self-employed and denied the tax benefits that make buying health insurance through employers almost mandatory. They ask: How can costs come down and the system be changed to meet our needs?

Finding a national solution to these questions cannot be the work of one political party or one group of experts, no matter who wins the November elections. The issues are too big to make rushing through any narrow group’s solution possible or desirable.

That’s why, this week in Orlando, two organizations — one made up of Republicans, the other of Democrats — are convening the first-of-its-kind meeting of national political leaders and policy experts from all points of view to seek common ground. It, too, is an unlikely coalition — labor and business, consumers and industry leaders, elected officials and doctors.

Our goal is to jump-start the action phase of the national health-care discussion.

Even now, in the middle of a presidential campaign, it is time to start reaching beyond partisanship to find solutions on which all Americans of good will can agree — both for Florida and for the entire nation.

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